In an area south of Santiago lies the Chilean Lake District, which is peperred with volcanos and crystal clear lakes making it an ideal area for relaxation and outdoor activities alike.
In the article below we take a look at some of the highlights.
The most famous lake in this district is Lago Villarica, which is home to the tourist hubs of Pucón and Villarrica itself.
The main hub of the area is Pucón, which attracts hoards of international and domestic tourists especially during the summer months. The most striking thing about Pucón is the proximity to Volcano Villarrica, which looms over the town and is visible from most streets.
Pucón is a good place to stay for a few days if you’ve been out and about in the surrounding countryside as it boasts a plethora of good eating places and cervecerias, which will restore your legs from all of your aches and pains. Pucón is also a great option to use as base to explore the surrounding areas.
There are a number of Day Hikes around in the easily accessbile
Huerquehue National Park and next on the hit list would be to visit one of the numerous Hot Springs in the area.
We opted to go for Termas Los Pozones, which you can easily get to with the twice daily bus from Pucón and are the cheapest of all the springs at a cost of 8000 CLP.
For me, the nicest thing about these springs were that they were set in a beautiful outdoor location next to a river and exposed to all of the elements. There were 5 different pools that you can visit, each of which got slightly hotter in temperature than the next.
Of course, the main attraction in Pucón is the volcano itself and there are scores of tour companies offering you treks to summit the volcano. Usually the trip can be done in about 8 hours, and involves you using an ice axe in some places, a gas mask at the top (as you get to peer into the steaming pit of lava below) and a plastic seat, which you sit on to slide your way back down to the bottom of the volcano.
The main problem with this trip however is having suitable weather conditions as they never go when there is a chance of rain. We stayed in Pucón for 6 nights in summer and were really unlucky as the rains didn’t clear the whole time (until we got on the bus to leave of course!)
Pucón also boasts a long beach where you can swim in the chilly, but crystal clear waters, a harbour and many other outdoor activities such as white water rafting and mountain biking.
One final thing to look out for in Pucón is the ‘Pedalea Pucón‘, which is basically a free bike service provided by the local government and allows you to have a bike for free for a couple of hours to visit Pucón and some of the closer areas, such as the nearby waterfall or Mapuche centre.
On the same lake as Pucón you’ll find Villarrica, which has a completely different vibe to Pucón. Generally, it’s more of a resort for Chileans and in particular Chilean families.
There are less western-style eating options than in Pucón, and the restaurants are more likely to provide huge portions of Chilean food rather than the more bistro-like Pucón.
However, we stayed for 4 nights in Villarrica and had a great time. There’s a couple of beaches that you can visit, and I’d definitely recommend swimming in the Lake where you can get views of the volcano as a backdrop, which is pretty awesome.
You can still do excursions from here if you want to use Villarrica as a base, but it’s less geared up for international tourism.
The other benefit of Villarrica is you can easily take the bus to Lican Ray, which is another Chilean resort and the neighbouring lake. There’s a Mapuche area on top of a hill you can walk around and a couple of beaches to explore, which makes a nice day trip out of Villarrica.
The lake furthest south in the Chilean lake district is Lago Llanquihue where you’ll find the towns of Puerto Octay and the more famous Puerto Varas.
Well, there’s not exactly a lot going on in Puerto Octay, but it’s a wondeful place to spend a few days to recharge the batteries and enjoy the slow pace of a sleepy village by the Lake.
The best thing about this place is the amazing views that you’ll get of Volcano Osorno, which has to be the most spectacular that we saw in the whole of Chile.
There are a couple of walks that you can do around the town, such as heading to the Centinela Penisula or visiting the cemetery for a spectacular view of the volcano.
If cycling is your thing then get on a bike and explore some of the 81 kms of the Llanquihue Lake cycling circuit, which affords simply breathtaking views.
From Puerto Octay you can get to Frutillar for a day trip as it’s only about 45 mins away by bus.
It’s a nice enough town with a strictly German dominance in the architecture and a nice beach to stroll along, but the atmosphere in Puerto Octay seemed more laid back to us.
We never made it to Puerto Varas either, but from what I understand it’s a slightly bigger version of Frutillar with more tourists and more German museums, so if that’s your thang, then go for it!
There’s at least another 4 – 5 big lakes to explore in this region and plenty of places to stay along the banks. The only thing we struggled with a bit, is we didn’t have a car and couldn’t get to some of the places a bit further afield.
However, even if you only get to visit one of these Lakes in this magnificent area, your journey will have been worth it and you’ll be rewarded with a fresh water lake to swim in with the backdrop of a snow capped volcano… not bad really!!!
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